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I am working in my first full-time position as an engineer at small tech firm. we have only a small amount of people in the office, including several engineers and an office manager with a background in business and marketing. We are currently in e-mail communication with several manufacturers and companies who are reviewing our designs and discussing them from a technical standpoint. Our office manager has sole correspondence with these engineers. He forwards us these technical emails (when relevant) and requests a response. Once a response is received from me or the other engineers, it is edited (sometimes) and copied into his own correspondence with the companies, inserted with something like "...from our engineers: [insert what I wrote here]"

While I see the need to CC managers or have them proof read correspondence in most cases, it feels awkward not having the ability to correspond directly with companies and their engineers on technical matters directly related to my work. My emails (and/or the emails of other engineers) are sent under the generic guise of "our engineers" and modified at will. Is this standard practice for most businesses? Should I discuss this with my manager?

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It can feel weird for sure, I don't think it's normal but not really abnormal either. It really depends on frequency and content. Your manager could be doing you a favor and you don't know it yet. I've been in similar situations were I ultimately asked the manager if he can just cc me and let me respond myself. It was fine for the duration of the short project. But after that, the person gave my email to other people in the office and even other offices. I started getting hammered by emails daily and it resulted in a large amount of work and scope creep on other projects.

So maybe he's doing you a favor, he does at least give you guys the credit and doesn't play it off like he's the one with all the knowledge and accepting credit for himself. So I don't think his intentions are negative or he wouldn't do that. But again it's a very situational thing and your milage my very.

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    That said, feel free to suggest to your manager that the communication would be more efficient if you could call the other engineer directly. See what he says! – Peter Sep 7 '18 at 21:06
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Is this standard practice for most businesses?

For many it is, many companies actually have a person who's sole job is being a go between some industries more than others. There are many valid reasons for it.

It amalgamates several information sources into one email

It avoids potential conflicts between individuals

It holds the manager responsible for all correspondence leaving his section, there may be information security or other constraints that you are unaware of that the manager needs to address.

etc,. etc,.

Should I discuss this with my manager?

No, this is how they decided or higher up decided to do things, it works, you shouldn't push back against it.

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    i guess OP could ask about it, to find out why. I don't think anyone would mind that much at all. but agreed, there's not much reason to actively fight this. – bharal Sep 8 '18 at 14:35
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The key is that this is your first full time position. There is a lot of subtlety that goes into inter company communication.

The contractual relationship between the companies may require a single focal point in either side who has the authority to speak for their company. This means any promises made via email may be considered binding so it is crucial that only the authorized person hit send.

Different contacts in different companies have different workloads and tolerances for having their time wasted. Questions from more Junior staff are typically filtered by more senior staff when there are concerns that the counter party may respond negatively to interactions they don't approve of.

It's also possible that there is wider context that you may be unaware of that the manager is. For example, discussion between technical staff may venture into territory that the business staff agree is out of scope. There may be legal or compliance issues (export control, data privacy, ethics, anti bribery, anti competition, etc) that needs to be taken into consideration when communicating.

You just may not have enough experience posing your questions or stating your information in terms that the other side may understand so your manager adds a bit of translation to it.

Your manager may need to keep in the loop so he can respond to internal and external questions on what is going on. He may want to control communication to keep it in sync with a consistent message and ensure there is not too much.

In short, there are many possible reasons and it's probably a combination of the above.

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Sometimes it can make sense to skip an intermediate position and make a conversation more fluent. But for now if your manager doesn't modify answers into wrong statements I don't yet see a big problem.
Direct communication also means more interrupts and effort for you. Normally you don't want this.

If you switch to directly contacting them then your manager no longer is the one who probably dispatches different questions to different people and bundles information in a response to whom it belongs. Then YOU are this first level contact person. You will probably receive everything else coming in from the other one, have to sort out what to forward to whom, sum up answers of your colleagues and so on. If your contact is spread in this other company you will receive requests from other people too.
If they have your phone number, expect calls at every time.
Do you really want that as an engineer?

Sometimes a phone call is much faster and more effective than a buch of mails spread over a week. You could suggest your manager to call someone in a situation that requires superior mailing effort, just to make it more effective. For your own sake start with a neutral phone such like in a meeting room or your manager's phone and let him join the conversation.

  • Would the downvoter explain? If they can... – puck Sep 12 '18 at 10:12
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Most companies try to have a single point of contact between them and any partners, customers or vendors. It reduces confusion and makes it very clear as to who is ultimately responsible for things on either side. That person often understands the entire relationship between the outside entity and the inside groups which lends them perspective you don't have and really don't want to know about.

Your manager is obviously that point of contact. In some companies this role is fulfilled by project managers, business analysts or even customer relations people. They are going to have meetings, take calls and handle emails that you will never know about. This is a good thing because it affords you the opportunity to focus on your immediate scope of work without having to worry about all the extra backroom clutter that tends to overwhelm the non-managers.

In some ways this communication seems inefficient. The alternative is that you could be flooded with calls and emails from dozens of different people covering things that you've already gone over. Each of those things might be special requests to change or tweak things or just simply asking how the project is going. That is chaos and tends to destroy productivity.

Seriously, don't rock this boat. Let your manager do their job and you'll be able to focus on yours.

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